“At the same time, it’s rather striking how “rock’n’roll” — not in any musical sense but as an abstract spirit (“rockstar”-ness: heedless hedonism, hard partying, not giving a fuck about the cost or consequences, inordinate self-regard) is draped all over current pop.(Hence the various songs referring to “Jagger”). Particularly with the endless stream of songs that espouse a kind of apocalyptic hedonism, hit after hit about how this could be my last night my last cup, gonna drink like it’s my last night, baby we don’t have tomorrow, Britney’s “Till the World Ends” (co-written by Ke$ha)… and then you think of Rihanna’s cheerless “Cheers” – Dionysian Keith Richards/Guns N’Roses darkside thrillseeking with some recession precarity desperation chucked in (max out those credit cards, live like there’s no tomorrow just like those fuckers in Wall Street). After a few drinks too many myself I tweeted that Ke$ha is our Jim Morrison but I kind of meant it–she is responsible for a lot of the new reckless get-wrecked spirit in music. (The word “fight” appears obsessively in her songs, a deliberate echo of her heroes the Beastie Boys and “fight for your right to party”). There were moments last year when most of the Top 40 seemed to be singing variations on: “well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer/the future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.”
“In the 21st century, there’s an increasingly sad and desperate quality to pop culture hedonism. Oddly, this is perhaps most evident in the way that R&B has given way to club music. When former R&B producers and performers embraced dance music, you might have expected an increase in euphoria, an influx of ecstasy. Yet the digitally-enhanced uplift in the records by producers such as Flo-Rida, Pitbull and will.i.am has a strangely unconvincing quality, like a poorly photoshopped image or a drug that we’ve hammered so much we’ve become immune to its effects. It’s hard not to hear these records’ demands that we enjoy ourselves as thin attempts to distract from a depression that they can only mask, never dissipate.
“A secret sadness lurks behind the 21st century’s forced smile. This sadness concerns hedonism itself, and it’s perhaps in hip-hop—the genre that has been most oriented to pleasure over the past 20-odd years—where this melancholy has registered most deeply. Drake and Kanye West are both morbidly fixated on exploring the miserable hollowness at the core of super-affluent hedonism. No longer motivated by hip-hop’s drive to conspicuously consume—they long ago acquired anything they could have wanted—Drake and West instead dissolutely cycle through easily available pleasures, feeling a combination of frustration, anger, and self-disgust, aware that something is missing, but unsure exactly what it is. This hedonist’s sadness—a sadness as widespread as it is disavowed—was nowhere better captured than in the doleful way that Drake sings, “we threw a party/yeah, we threw a party,” on Take Care’s “Marvin’s Room”.”
Perhaps It’s my non-stop march to middle-aged decrepitude. but when reading at the above pieces, I can’t help but get a similar nagging feeling from listening to ‘Tracing Echoes,’ the current album from Bloodgroup. A review of the album is done and will be forthcoming (This review here is also worth reading), but one aspect that was only touched upon is the overwhelming sense of melancholy that pervades throughout the album. Gone is the sprightly, brash exuberance that marked their earlier work, and in its place is an identity that’s more sombre, introspective and, at times, sadder. It makes you wonder what it is that has sparked such a drastic change in them, both musically and aesthetically.
Compared to the music of their first and second albums, the music in ‘Tracing Echoes’ isn’t really suited for the dance floor. It’s heavy, oppressive and like James Blake’s ‘Overgrown,’ looks inward and experiences something of an existential crisis. It’s as if the band are looking at the environment around them and asking, albeit at times implicitly, “Is this all there is?” Tracks like “A Kings Woe” and “Disquiet” are overladen with an emotional weariness, displaying an uncertainty of themselves, that’s there something wrong with the state that we are in, but not really sure what to do about it.
It’s a feeling I too have been experiencing for some time when I now look around me in Reykjavik. Famed for the legendary “101 party spirit” immortalised in such places as Hallgrimur Helgason’s “101 Reykjavik” and god knows how any Iceland Airwaves docs, these days with Iceland being pimped as the cool capital of the world, it should be an occasion to celebrate. But there seems to be a rictus grin papered over our unabashed party times, almost as if we’re going through the motions. Painfully trendy, painfully style-obsessed and materialistic to a fault, it all reeks of an emptiness that few people are willing to admit to themselves, let alone everyone else. Obviously there is a bit of the hedonism paradox at play here, but for me ‘Tracing Echoes’ seems to capture a cultural society that’s trying to do its best to convince itself that we’re entering a new dawn and that everything will be fine with another night out, another bottle all that is needed. But it’s not working out as well as hoped.